For a pet owner, little is more frightening than a creature hurling itself at your beloved fur baby, intent to do damage.

When Sonia Rapaport walked outside with her 3-year-old Portuguese water dog Teddy, she was startled by an animal that attacked them.

Both Teddy and she were bitten, as Rapaport tried to separate the animals.

Rapaport posted about the event on the Facebook group Secret Montclair.

"I was on my front lawn with Teddy. He was on his leash, going to the bathroom, and the next thing you know, an animal came out of nowhere and jumped on him," Rapaport said. It was too dark to see what kind of animal it was, but it was on its back biting Teddy. Teddy was biting back.

"I was screaming. My husband said he didn't know I could scream that loud," Rapaport said. The fight lasted about a minute before she could separate the animals.

Her husband tried to separate them, and the animal ran at him.

She brought the dog inside, but she saw some blood. After she washed him off she called an emergency number her vet knew, who told her she could wait until the next day. The dog was behaving normally.

But the next morning he went to the vet, Marsh Animal Hospital in Verona. Dr. Mark Milwicki performed  surgery on two muscle tears: Teddy was lucky not to have an artery torn, Rapaport said.

Now, he has a cone and shaved leg. "He won't leave my side," she said.

Rapaport was also bitten, and is not sure which animal did it. "It could be a little of each," she said. She went to the ER at Mountainside.

At first she thought it might be a coyote. Later an opossum. After speaking to Montclair Township Animal Control Supervisor Michelle Shiber, she now thinks it was likely a raccoon.

Shiber wishes she had been called right away, though she does not think this animal was rabid.

Teddy wears a cone while older Portuguese water dog Sake, 12, looks on. COURTESY SONIA RAPAPORT


The first thing to do if your dog or cat gets bitten by an animal is call Animal Control, Shiber said.

Rapaport posted about her experience on Facebook to alert her neighbors, but nobody called the Police Department or Animal Control.
It is important that Animal Control be notified at once, Shiber stressed, so that they can track the animal's movements and catch it.
So far, Shiber has not received any reports prior to or after this incident of animals behaving badly, which underscores her impression that the animal may have been in a defensive mode rather than rabid.
Then, bring the animal to the veterinarian and begin getting treated for rabies yourself if bitten, just in case.
Teddy was up on his booster shots, and Rapaport has begun taking rabies treatments as a proactive measure.

Whenever an animal bites a human being, Animal Control receives a report within 12 hours.

In the report from Mountainside hospital, the description of the animal just did not sound like a possum, Shiber said.

"In my experience, possums do not behave in that manner. Their first defense is to open their mouths and look ferocious, but then if you approach them they will run," she said. "I've never heard of anybody getting attacked by a possum.

"I don't want people to have an irrational fear of possums."

It would be very unusual for a possum (an opossum and a possum are the same animal) to have rabies, as their body temperature is too low to sustain the virus, Shiber said, but in any case, it is not clear that the raccoon was rabid.

"In chaos, people don't see things straight," she added. "She saw something with fur attacking the dog."
Clearly it was not a dog or a fox, because even in the dark, a fox's fluffy orange tail, or a dog's fur, would be distinctive.

The animal might well have been startled when Rapaport came outside with her dog.

Unlike possums, raccoons will fight first and flee second, Shiber said. Especially if it had food and saw an animal approaching it, the raccoon's behavior would not be unusual.

Teddy looks lovingly at his owner, Sonia Rapaport, despite having to wear a cone. COURTESY SONIA RAPAPORT


One misconception Shiber hopes to clear up is the idea that seeing wildlife by day means it is rabid.

It may be unusual to see a fox or raccoon by day, but its behavior, not schedule, is what marks an animal as rabid.

"If you see a raccoon at 3 p.m. sitting on a garbage can eating, that's a healthy animal taking advantage of a free, quick meal," Shiber said. "Foxes are out there because there are more squirrels out there, and they are trying to catch a square meal."

If the animal is not behaving erratically or drunkenly, it's probably not rabid, she said.

People can be bitten by non-rabid animals, however; for example, when animals see someone walking their dog and become frightened, Shiber said, or in the springtime, when mamas will absolutely go on the offensive to protect their babies.
Right now, it's easy to mistake a raccoon for some more exotic animal because wildlife has thick fur coats.
"The bigger the wildlife is, the worse the winter is," she said.
Rapaport recalls the raccoon was big and fat and round.
Meanwhile, Teddy is on the mend, she said, and expected to get his stitches out on Dec. 29.
"He's a trooper," Rapaport said. "He had to sleep over at the hospital. He has a lot of medicines, but doing great. He has no problem eating with the cone on, he just gets right down in there."